Step 1: Examine the Mat
Inspecting your framed art is the first step to protect and preserve your work, however, it must be done with the proper materials. The most noticeable and dangerous problem with older mats is the acid level in the paper. You will be able to see a yellow line along the bevel of the mat cutout. This will cause a subsequent yellowing in the art work called acid burn. This can often be repaired by a conservator but each piece is unique. If you see yellowing, you should bring the framed work to be defit and examined. If your mat is acidic, we will recommend a rag mat that has a balanced pH level throughout and will not yellow over time or cause acid burn on your artwork.
The acidic mat is visible by the telltale yellow core.
A haze of acid burn from the acidic mat. This can be conserved or covered by a new ragmat.
Step 2: Check the Backing
The back of a frame is often covered with paper. If it is brittle and crumbling that indicates a high level of acid. That often is a red flag for acid behind the paper as well. A common backing for framed works was cardboard, and that should never be touching artwork. This should be brought in to be examined. We would look to see if the artwork needs any conservation, then hinge it on conservation rag buffer board then a backing of acid free foam core and re-paper the back.
Step 3: Look for Moisture
Is your frame in a damp space, on an outside wall, or in a bathroom? Check often for moisture gathering under the glass. Sometimes you will see a line at the bottom of the mat that indicates moisture was present at one point. If you see that, the piece should be examined and checked for mold. If mold is present, a conservator will be able to inspect it for further treatment.
Mold and yellow spots from moisture building behind the glass on this antique poster.
If you spot any concerns on the outside of a frame you should bring it in to be examined. If it is important enough to be hanging on your wall it should be preserved with the best available products. Conservation framing has come a long way in the last few decades and many framed pieces could use a little updating.